Gypsies, bank robbers, and the Norwegian police: a gloriously suspenseful mashup

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A review of Nemesis, by Jo Nesbo

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

If you saw Harry Hole walking up to you on the sidewalk, you’d probably cross to the other side of the street. He’s close to six-and-a-half feet tall, looks tough (and is), and rarely smiles. This much-conflicted detective on the Oslo police force isn’t the kind of guy who makes friends easily or has a lot of fans either on or off the force. He’s an alcoholic who spends more time off the wagon than on, and he seems to devote more effort to pursuing his own investigations than those he’s assigned. However, Harry Hole is a brilliant detective who deploys both intuition and deductive reasoning to solve some of Norway’s most devilishly complex crimes.

In Nemesis, the fourth novel in Jo Nesbo’s celebrated Harry Hole series, a murder committed in the course of a bank robbery engages more and more of the Oslo police as other, similar robberies take place and city officials demand results. Eventually, Harry is assigned to the robbery detail that’s run by one of several of his arch-enemies. Trouble ensues (of course!) when Harry insists on viewing the initial robbery — the focus of the investigation — not as a bank job but as a homicide. Meanwhile, one of the several girlfriends in Harry’s past turns up dead, not incidentally the same evening Harry has dinner with her in her apartment. To make matters worse, Harry can’t remember a thing about the evening. Now, he’s not only at loggerheads with his superior in the robbery detail but a potential suspect in a murder case as well. (Naturally, Harry refrains from telling anyone about his presence at the murder scene.)

As the story unfolds, Harry becomes enmeshed in a series of seemingly unlikely and disconnected subcultures, from the Romany (gypsy) diaspora to the world of bank robbers to the ways of the corporate elite. Nesbo’s research is extensive, and the details that emerge naturally in the telling of the tale are fascinating.

It’s hard to imagine that more than a handful of crime writers anywhere in the world could spin out this tale, seamlessly interweave several complex subplots, populate them all with thoroughly believable characters, and build suspense to a shattering conclusion with the skill that Jo Nesbo brings to his craft.

At his best, as he was in The Leopard, Jo Nesbo is the equal of any mystery writer alive today. Even when his work falls a little short of perfection, the result is still outstanding. Both The Redbreast and Nemesis fall into that category. I can’t wait to read the other seven Harry Hole novels I haven’t yet opened.

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Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers

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